Better off

Melo-1It’s not something you’d say in polite company in the Colarado area, but Melo’s injury may have been the best thing that has happened to the Denver Nuggets in recent times.
Not that I think Denver don’t need him – I’ve been convinced of late that he actually is maturing, and the team really are better off with Anthony2.0 – but in the long term, Denver are going to be a better team post a forced hiatus from their number one guy.
Ok, it’s no secret that I’ve been a huge detractor of Carmelo Anthony’s.  The main issue that I’ve had with Melo for the past few years is oriented around the wisdom… or rather lack thereof that he’s displayed off the court.  And to be frank, that “lack-thereof” had been displayed rather frequently.
The signs were all there that this was a guy that whilst blessed with talent, wasn’t always going to make good decisions – both in regards to on court, and off court.  The presence of Allen Iverson – someone else who has had pretty much the same criticisms leveled at him – was never going to help.  The two best players at the Nuggets were not guys that you’d look to for leadership.
Then… a few things happened that really changed the landscape at Denver.  Not so rocky in the Rockies, clear paths appeared.
– Carmelo Anthony’s participation in the Olympics.  Being around older guys who were incredibly focused on doing everything it took to be the best that they could be.
– The trade for Chauncey Billups.  An actual leader at Denver who was focused on his team first, and was a stand-up guy to boot.
Carmelo turned up to the start of the season, cornrows gone.  Denver fans I know said they knew it from then.
Carmelo Anthony’s good.  No denying that.  The thing about Carmelo Anthony being present on the court is that obviously all the team defer to him.  It’s a problem that many of the game’s elite players face.  With Melo’s hand fractured, Denver are forced to look elsewhere.  Prior to Billups, it would have just been the same thing, this time AI would have taken over.  But as Denver discovered (and Detroit are now?), Allen Iverson is not the answer.  Chauncey Billups can score, and does so.  But he also involves the other members of the team.  More than that, he insists that the others are involved.  He leads.

And it’s working.

Whilst Denver mightn’t win all the games they could’ve won with Melo present, they’re going to be that much better when he gets back.  J.R. Smith’s stepped up.  Kenyon Martin’s playing the best basketball he’s played in years.  Nene’s staying on the court.  Even Chris Anderson is doing well (Linas Kleiza still needs to make the leap everyone’s expecting, but the signs are still there). Introduce Carmelo Anthony back into this team, and they’re going to be much better than when he left.
What’s the difference?  Belief…

Long term Carmelo Anthony is the franchise player at Denver.  And they desperately need him to continue the maturing process.  But this season, he’s not The Man.
This season, that title belongs to Chauncey Billups.